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Homework with the boys

Homework with the boys
I’m a girl. I live with boys. It’s been an education.
When I was in school, doing homework didn’t seem like the most monumental task on the face of the earth. I don’t remember feeling that I was being oppressed by a communist regime just because I had to study spelling words or practice handwriting. I don’t remember thinking the world was ending because I had to write sentences from the English book and circle the nouns and underline the adjectives. Then I became the mom of two “active” boys. I quickly learned the sinister truth. Hence, the following dinner time conversation:
“Boys, what does our homework situation look like tonight?”
“Ugh! Awful! Terrible! Mom, you won’t BELIEVE what they’re making me do! I have to write a paragraph.”
“Well, Honey, writing a paragraph is not like having a limb amputated. I’m sure it will be fine.”
“AND I have to write sentences and identify the pronouns.”
“Well, you can do that, can’t you? I mean, you know what pronouns are, right?”
“Yeah, but Mom, I have to WRITE the sentences. You know … write them on a piece of paper with a pencil first. UGH!”
“Well, sure, I know what it means to write sentences. And it’s not going to kill you, Sweetheart. I promise.”
Soon little brother pipes in with his own commentary: “Yeah, and we were going to go lookin’ for frogs tonight. And now he has to sit and WRITE stuff first! Why can’t our homework be about finding frogs and making frog houses and frog schools and stuff like that?”
“Look boys, people have lived through writing ‘stuff’ for generations. I mean, there are kids your age all around the world who have written a paragraph tonight … and they’re all still breathing.”
“Mom, you have no way of knowing that for sure.”
“OK, you have a point. Look, let’s just get this homework done and then you’ll have free time.”
Two boys wearily dragged their backpacks to the kitchen table. They looked at each other as if they were preparing for the torture chambers. Sighs filled the room. Paragraph writing began.
“Mom, I’m done.”
“Well, let me take a look at it. You didn’t use many descriptive words. It seems a little choppy and bland. Can’t you write a paragraph that’s a little more, well, interesting?”
“Oh, Mom! I was supposed to write a paragraph. I wrote a paragraph. My hand is tired and cramping. I feel nauseous. And I still have to write ALL those sentences, remember?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
And then in a moment of clarity, I actually DID remember … not about writing paragraphs or English sentences. I remembered Algebra homework. I remembered wishing that my Algebra book would fly out the window and never come back. I remembered wishing my Algebra teacher would fly out the window and never come back. I remembered thinking that the person who invented Algebra should be sent to prison for reckless endangerment of a child’s psychological development. It all became clear now. My boys’ feelings about writing were my exact feelings about higher math. Compassion filled my heart.
A full-fledged frog adventure seemed to be an appropriate reward for the completion of the homework. When the homework was done, the boys went sailing out of the house. They were wearing rubber boots. I was wearing a smile. Someday my boys will realize the truth about writing. They might even grow to love it. Yeah. And someday I might become an Algebra teacher.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. She can be reached by e-mail at
Published in The Messenger on 10.03.07